Taiwan Conducts Massive Military Drills, Anti-Submarine Operations As It Prepares To Thwart Chinese PLAN

In line with its military preparations to thwart any potential invasion attempt by China, the Taiwanese military launched a two-day military drill at sea, on land, and in the air on January 30.

On day one, in a stunning display of its air power, Taiwan’s air force demonstrated its vigil over the sky and waters surrounding the self-ruled island by showcasing its heavily armed submarine hunters and early warning and control aircraft.

Over the past four years, China has frequently dispatched warships and warplanes into the skies and seas surrounding the island to bolster claims to sovereignty that Taipei’s administration has rejected. Beijing considers the self-ruled island state as a rogue Chinese province that it has vowed to reunite with the mainland.

A much smaller air force as compared to China’s, the Republic of China Air Force (RoCAF) has been at the forefront of responding to Chinese incursions and is always on the move to shadow and warn off Chinese ships and combat aircraft.

During a media tour to the Pingtung air base in southern Taiwan, which was arranged by the defense ministry, the air force showcased its Lockheed Martin P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft and Northrop Grumman-built E-2K Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft, media reports stated. 

The Orion can carry US-made Maverick air-to-ground missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and depth charges and torpedoes. The crews showed installing missiles beneath the wing of the aircraft.

A training officer overseeing the drills told the media, “We uphold the concept of integrating training for war under the guidance of the defense ministry. We are doing excellent training, which is enough to cope with various situations.” 

Taiwan operates 12 Orions, cleared for sale in 2007 for about US$2 billion (S$2.67 billion) by the US government. The first aircraft, surplus US Navy stock, went into service with Taiwan in 2013 and had a maximum flight time of twelve hours.

Additionally, the Air Force flew one of their E-2K Hawkeyes in a flyby. Six of the aircraft are owned by Taiwan; however, one was damaged following a landing mishap in 2022 and is currently undergoing repair.

Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye - Wikipedia
E-2 Hawkeye – Wikipedia

Owing to its long-range detection capabilities, they can follow low-altitude targets flying below the radar’s detection range from the air and direct intercepts. The aircraft can easily approach the Bashi Channel and the Taiwan Strait from their Pingtung base.

Taiwan and the Philippines are divided by this vital waterway, which also links the Pacific and South China Seas. China regularly sailed through the Bashi Channel with warships and aircraft. 

The annual exercise was launched less than three weeks after voters chose Lai Ching-te to be the next president, awarding the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, which China opposes, a third consecutive four-year term in office. After the pro-China candidate lost the elections, the threat of Chinese hostilities has amplified.

Chinese airplanes fly toward Taiwan, and sea vessels cruise the waters surrounding the island almost daily, then turn around. Popularly known as Beijing’s grey zone tactics aimed at intimidating and exhausting the Taiwanese military, these incursions have triggered concerns that they could spiral into a more significant conflict and catch the self-ruled island unaware. 

The head of the defense ministry, Maj. Gen. Sun Li-fang told reporters at Zuoying Naval Base in southern Taiwan that China’s recent actions pose a threat to start a conflict that could have catastrophic consequences for the entire region, where billions of dollars worth of trade cross the 160-kilometer-wide waterway dividing Taiwan from China.

Besides showcasing its ability to detect and confront Chinese vessels at sea, the Taiwanese military simulated an attack by China on day two of the exercises.

Preparing Against The Attack

On January 31, the Taiwanese military played out a scenario in which China unexpectedly escalated a routine practice surrounding the island into an actual attack. Earlier that day, China had organized another “combat readiness patrol” near Taiwan.

China maintains its armed forces frequently patrol the air and seas surrounding Taiwan in an attempt to coerce Taiwan into acknowledging Chinese sovereignty. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense states that Chinese warships and aircraft frequently engage in “joint combat readiness patrols.” On Wednesday, it announced that 22 Chinese planes were involved in another operation.

In the media-watched drill in Taitung, in eastern Taiwan, soldiers, tanks, and armored personnel carriers moved across the terrain while detonations erupted, repulsing an enemy force.

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), the exercise involved “concealed people” leading aircraft strikes and commando assaults on targets such as essential infrastructure, and it “simulated the enemy military turning drills into war during joint combat readiness patrols.”

“The Critical Target Counter-Infiltration Drill demonstrated the results of our troops’ peacetime training,” Officer Ko Ting-yi told reporters. “In the face of increasingly frequent enemy threats, the army has continued to make breakthroughs and strengthen its training, while the troops have used realistic combat training to enhance basic combat capabilities.”

China has conducted two rounds of significant war simulations outside Taiwan during the past year and a half, sparking concerns about the possibility of a battle that may involve the US and its allies, particularly Japan.

Following Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting in Los Angeles last April with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, China conducted precise attacks and blockades as part of maneuvers around the island.

Since Taiwan’s east coast is hilly and does not face China directly like its west coast does, the island nation’s conventional military strategy during a fight has been to use its east coast, particularly its two air bases, to regroup and conserve its forces.

One of the goals of the exercises is to increase public assurance that the island can defend itself, especially during the Lunar New Year holiday that falls next month.

“I wish to assure all our people that our forces remain at their posts during the Lunar New Year to guard the nation and allow the people of Taiwan to rest assured that they will have a peaceful holiday,” Maj. Gen. Tan Yung, the head of the Taitung Defense Command, told reporters. 

Taiwan also uses these drills, along with the news conferences that frequently follow, to improve the military’s reputation, as it struggles to get recruits and mostly depends on conscripts.